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Astrid Trotzig, Ibland undrar jag om jag minns rätt (Sometimes I Wonder if I Remember Right)

Bonniers,  2001. ISBN: 9100573450

Reviewed by Helena Forsås-Scott in SBR 2002:1

This novel is about Anna Jakobsson. She is in her early thirties, 173 centimetres tall, of medium build, with straight, brownish hair and pale brown eyes. However, by the time we receive this information from the detective superintendent involved in the search for Anna, we are approaching the end of the novel and becoming more and more convinced that she will never be found. More importantly, as readers we have by then become increasingly sceptical about any conventional definitions of identity and their implications.

So perhaps this novel is not really about Anna Jakobsson after all. Let us have another go.

This novel is about narrative and subjectivity. Approached in the context of current postmodernist and feminist theories, it problematizes language and narration, highlighting the constructedness of characters and their world/s, and focusing the power and control that necessarily underpin any attempt at establishing causality and meaning. In place of a conventional central character, this novel constructs a void — or perhaps an Other — which becomes indispensable to the characters narrating themselves in relation to it. As these characters begin to take shape, interpretation emerges as a process of hierarchisation and control. By failing or refusing to return, Anna has slipped out of the net, but she has left us with a whole range of problems to confront. Astrid Trotzig’s second novel is deceptively unassuming. The narrative, structured along the lines of Sonja Akesson’s poem ‘Församling’ (Congregation), lists the reactions to Anna’s disappearance of The Husband. The Mother, The Woman Friend, The Father, The Detective Superintendent, and — again — The Husband. The emphasis on their relational/professional identities is not accidental.

At one level, these characters are all producing narratives about Anna, a librarian who is married to a music teacher with whom she has a young son. But at another level, these first-person narrators are also constructing themselves. Thus the kaleidoscopic images of Anna are interspersed with and at times overshadowed by The Husband who is distant and possessive, The Mother who is ever-present and possessive, The Woman Friend whose sense of affinity and analytical sensibility are also used possessively, and The Father who has had his own expectations of his daughter. The Detective Superintendent, summarizing and generalizing points already made, also exemplifies the role of the Other, and more specifically the role of control of the Other, in any definition of ‘the self’.

A couple of the first-person narrators occasionally address Anna as ‘du’, but this apparent intimacy, evoked by The Husband and, much more frequently, by The Woman Friend, is undermined by the mounting problematization of identity and subjectivity. Inevitably, the various ‘jag’ that predominate in the narratives of this novel and seem to vie for the reader’s attention also come across as increasingly doubtful and desperate as the texts, which range in length from a couple of sentences to a few pages, emphatically call coherence and continuity into question. Cleverly and elegantly, this novel exploits our need for narratives that hang together and our readiness to fill in what we perceive as missing information. The narrative of The Woman Friend, unique in that its texts are dated and presented as part of a diary, also highlights the complex relationship between narrative and memory, alerting us to the possible implications of the chronological gaps between story and narration. Or, to quote The Husband:

Bilder flyter samman.
Det händer att jag inte ens vet om det jag minns verkligen har hänt.
Kanske har jag bara tagit någon annans minnen, gjort dem till mina. Eller
uppfunnit nya. (p. 36)

(Images converge. / Sometimes I don’t even know if what I remember has actually happened. / Perhaps I have simply appropriated someone else’s memories and made them mine. Or invented new ones.)

So what, then, is it that we are reading in this novel? What is happening when we read these narratives? What are narratives anyway, and how do they function? And what is their significance to us? Astrid Trotzig’s slim novel raises a host of pertinent questions and does so in terms that arc at once subtle, provocative and aesthetically satisfying.

Also by Astrid Trotzig

Other reviews by Helena Forsås-Scott

Other reviews in SBR 2002:1

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